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6 arrested for vandalising church in MP

Church vandalised

Jabalpur/Mumbai: Six people belonging to a right-wing Hindu group were arrested in connection with the attack on a cathedral in Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh even as a “political or foreign hand” was suspected by the government in neighbouring Maharashtra in a similar incident in Navi Mumbai.

“We have arrested six persons involved in attacking the Catholic school and cathedral premises,” Jabalpur’s Additional Superintendent of Police (ASP) Isha Pant told today.

The six arrested persons were later granted bail on a personal bond of Rs 25,000 each, prompting Church authorities to lodge a strong protest with the police.

Those arrested have been identified as Dharam Sena leader Yogesh Agrawal, and his associates Nitin Rajak, Prateek Pyasi, Anurag Choukse, Abhishek Choukse and Sharad Rao, Pant said.

They have been booked under IPC sections 147 (rioting), 148 (rioting, armed with deadly weapon), 149 (unlawful assembly), 294 (punishment for obscene acts or words in public), 323 (voluntarily causing hurt), 427 (mischief) and 506 (criminal intimidation) of the IPC, besides other relevant sections, she said.

The incidents took place on March 20 and in the wee hours of March 21 when some members of the Christian community were allegedly assaulted and threatened by activists of Bajrang Dal and Dharam Sena who attacked the school and a parsonage alleging that religious conversion had been taking place there.

The church authorities had alleged that the accused stormed into the Cathedral premises and a school housing a grotto with St Mary’s idol. They broke earthen pots and shattered glass panes of windows of the parsonage, charging Father Thankachan Jose with converting Hindus to Christianity.

Ravi Francis, claiming to be a witness, had earlier said that he was roughed up by Dharam Sena and Bajrang Dal activists who stormed into Saint Thomas School campus, where some people who came for a convention were staying.

Though Fr Thankachan and police officials held talks with leaders of the Hindu outfits to ease the situation, some of them stormed into the premises and started abusing them, he alleged.

Police sought to chase them from the campus, but they refused to give in and marched to the nearby Saint Peter and Paul Cathedral where the first day of the convention was held.

They then barged into the Cathedral premises shouting ‘Jai Shree Ram’ and demanded that Fr Thankachan be handed over to them. As they could not find him there, they vandalised the parsonage, close to the Cathedral, Francis said.

The church had given the CCTV footage of the incident to the police.

In Maharashtra, Opposition members walked out of the state Assembly in protest against the attack on a church in New Panvel in Navi Mumbai late night on Saturday.

Minority Affairs Minister Eknath Khadse told the Assembly that the state government was conducting a probe and culprits would be dealt with sternly.

“A foreign hand, anti-social elements or a political person may be involved in the incident. A political hand cannot be ruled out. Detailed facts would be revealed before the end of the ongoing Legislature session,” Khadse said.

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